Impinging the elements of natural catastrophe with the veil of darkness created by man cannot wreak more havoc for the sufferers. The early twentieth century was never a period of ease for the widows when the so called religious officianados imposed restrictions that was stretched to no scalable limits. The pall of gloom for a married woman on having lost her better half was compounded by the misery of having to live the remaining part of her life in treacherously outrageous conditions. All this in the name of religion hounded by the devils of yesteryears!
Water captures the essence of life from a widow's perspective. The film, set on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi portrays the stringent atmosphere prevailing in what could be hailed as the most conservative and orthodox period in Indian history. Talking about the old customs, the legacy carried on from the old generations stifled the masses into obscurity. The story starts off with the nine year old girl Chuiya, played by Sarala being left in a widows' home(Ashram) by her father. Embracing widowhood at a time when not even knowing the meaning of husband and family is menacing. She is left in the lurch (rather discarded) by her family, though she lives with the hope that one day she would return back to her home. There, she strikes chord with the beautiful Kalyani played by Lisa Ray. A person who is at the zenith of his life when begins his final walk, the overlap is really difficult to handle. Such is the state of Chuiya and Kalyani. They are exposed to eventualities commissioned by the brutal force of the unheeding society. The head of the ashram is an old woman, Madhumati, played by Manorama, and her perception towards these people is not any friendly. Her only friend is the pimp Gulabi, played by Raghubir Yadav whose main job is to sell Kalyani as a sexual object. On the ghats one day, Kalyani meets Narayan, played by John Abraham. The stigma on the widows in the society poses a major restriction to break the ice between Kalyani and Narayan. Though both are attracted by the other's presence, both of them are not able to cross the lines. Narayan is a broad minded individual, a nationalist, follower of Gandhiji's ideals and his overtones are more for a rationalistic society with better living conditions for the widows. His argument with the friend goes thus If you are married to a girl, and when she dies, if you are snatched away of all your rights, would it be fair? is very realistic and thought provoking. Seema Biswas as one of the widows is brilliant. She is caught between the two worlds - that she is a widow and her fear that she is not one. When one of the old ladies in the house dies, she tells Chuiya, I hope atleast in her rebirth, she would be born as a human being. That explains her pent up emotions that is concealed by her tough exterior.
Will Kalyani and Narayan meet up in the final phase? Will Narayan's family concede to his demands? Will both of them be able to break the social barrier? Will Chuiya go back to her mother? Will there be a radical change in the outlook of the society? Get the answers to these questions by watching this brilliantly crafted movie. Deepa Mehta has taken up a very sensitive issue and her portrayal of the sufferance of the unfortunate section is really touching. I think the religious communalists should have waited before they froze Deepa Mehta's sets in Varanasi. This prompted her to shoot the movie in Sri Lanka with totally a different cast. The original cast had Shabana Azmi playing Seema Biswas' role. Nandita Das and Akshay Kumar were supposed to play Lisa Ray and John Abraham's role. Lisa Ray is truly enchanting and her inner conflict to break the chains is clearly depicted. John Abraham after his meaningless tryst with conventional movies has essayed out a stellar performance. But the real highlight of the movie is the young girl, Sarala adorning the role of Chuiya. The mischievous gleam in her eyes, coupled with childish innocence and maturity well beyond her years sticks to mind for a long time. The plight, the anguish, the pain, the sorrow and her helplessness causes her to accept what she has to undergo. Truly a fantastic performance. The background music by Mychael Danna is fantastic and so are the songs by AR Rahman.
The Indian audience should keep its fingers crossed to get an opportunity to see this brilliant movie. It would set the minds rolling to see what thresholds have been cleared en route a clear society.